Bag me

If you’re like me—and I’m going to keep starting posts that way as long as I keep cracking myself up—you’re interested in economic disruptions and unintended consequences. Take plastic bags. Please. Bag monster wants you!

When they quickly became the bag o’ choice at grocery stores, I wondered what the unintended consequences would be. Not just the fact that there’d be billions of slow-to-degrade plastic bags everywhere and all of a sudden, but how it would change the dynamics of the businesses involved. Fewer trees would die, but people who worked cutting down trees and making paper bags would get laid off. And we’d be more reliant on petrochemicals. And it was just so weird how nearly everyone just mindlessly accepted this checkout line paradigm shift, even though I think lots of us knew deep down there’d be a piper to pay some day. 

So now that we’ve decided that plastic bags truly are a nuisance and we seem to be rediscovering the idea of a shopping bag that—shades of mid-20th century!—is reusable, I’ve been wondering how the pressure to curtail the use of plastic bags is disrupting the plastic bag business. 

I didn’t know when I started to write this that lawmakers in California just tried and failed to institute a statewide ban on p-bags. Further extensive research—Google, click—reveals that lobbying by the American Chemistry Council probably helped doom the effort. So it would seem the industry is feeling the pain, but not going down without a fight. 

And, of course, I wonder about these new reusable shopping bags. What’s the environmental impact of their manufacture? Do they make a net positive or net negative difference when everything is considered? I believe they are mostly made in China. By prisoners? By children? How much fuel is used to ship them across the ocean? If they break after only being used a couple of times, don’t they add a lot more to the waste stream than a disposable bag? And what happens to the ones that aren’t sold? 

See, if I were Malcolm Gladwell, I’d know these things.